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With harvest ended, Sonoma County’s jobless rate rose slightly in November, but employment off the farm continued to grow.

The county’s unemployment rate last month ticked up a notch to 4.2 percent, the state Employment Development Department reported Friday. The rate compares with 4.1 percent for October and 5.3 percent from a year earlier.

Last month’s increase was due to a seasonal drop in farm employment, a decline of 2,200 jobs. In contrast, nonfarm employment grew by 1,100 jobs.

The retail trade sector alone added 1,100 jobs last month.

“That’s just ramping up for the holiday shopping season,” said Janet Klaven, an EDD labor market consultant based in Santa Rosa.

Meanwhile, manufacturing declined by 400 jobs from October, and leisure and hospitality fell by 300 jobs. Both sectors typically have seasonal declines, officials said.

County has 5th lowest rate

The state’s jobless rate for November was 5.7 percent. For the U.S., it was 5 percent.

This year, the county job market has posted record employment numbers. While last month’s worker count of 205,500 is slightly below the revised peak in September, it remains the most ever for November and an increase of 5,500 from a year earlier.

In contrast, the number of workers for county businesses and government agencies bottomed out after the last recession at 171,100 in January 2010. That same month unemployment here peaked at 11.4 percent.

In November, Sonoma ranked fifth among the state’s 58 counties with the lowest jobless rates.

The top counties, in order, were San Mateo, Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara. Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, considers the top four all to have a sizable presence of technology companies. As such, he touted Sonoma’s performance as strong in comparison.

Construction rebounds

Over the past year, the construction industry added 1,500 jobs, and business and professional service sector grew by 1,600 workers. Both sectors suffered during and after the last recession, Stone said, “so it’s very encouraging to see these categories come back so strongly.”

Construction employment now has improved in the county for 39 consecutive months on a year-over-year basis, Klaven said.

Hospitality takes a hit

The November report showed yearly declines in two major sectors. Leisure and hospitality decreased by 500 jobs, even though hotels, restaurants and drinking establishments still posted an increase. Klaven said the decline came in other “confidential” areas.

Even with last month’s decline, the hospitality sector still has gained 4,400 jobs in the past five years ago to 24,200.

The other major sector that decreased was manufacturing, which declined by 1,200 jobs from a year earlier.

Of such companies, those in food and other non-durable manufacturing have increased by 100 jobs to 11,400 jobs over the last five years. But jobs for manufacturing durable goods have experienced a steady decline, from 9,100 in November 2010 to 7,900 last month.

Among the factors for the decline are state and federal “tax disincentives” for manufacturers doing business here, as well the cost and availability of labor, said Mike Maszy, chairman of the North Bay chapter of the Society of Mechanical Engineers.

“Large companies that have previously manufactured in our state and in the Bay Area are choosing to relocate outside of the U.S. to places such as Mexico, China, Costa Rica and Ireland or even to other states like Arizona and Texas,” Maszy, a vice president at TriVascular in Santa Rosa, wrote Friday in an email.

Wages start to rise

Major growth in manufacturing jobs is unlikely without new companies locating here because the existing ones increasingly are investing in automation to boost productivity, said Dick Herman, president of 101 MFG, a Petaluma-based alliance of manufacturing executives.

“The news isn’t all bad,” said Herman. “The wages are starting to creep up” for the existing workers who must boost their skills in order to run equipment that is becoming “so much more sophisticated.”

Among neighboring counties, Marin County ranked second for lowest jobless rate with 3.3 percent. Napa ranked 11th at 4.8 percent; Mendocino 17th at 5.4 percent; and Lake 35rd at 7.1 percent.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit

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